Gauche

Gabriella Ramos, 8, right, and her aunt, Andrea Rodriguez, both of Wheatland, cool off in the activity pool at Gauche Aquatic Park in Yuba City.

After Yuba City announced it would be closing Gauche Aquatic Park for five months out of the year due to budget constraints, a number of area residents raised concerns over what the decision will mean for them and their children.

Many were part of the standing-room only crowd that attended Tuesday’s regularly-scheduled City Council meeting and spoke during public comments.

Yuba City resident Holly Stout said one of her biggest concerns was with how the decision was made without any public input.

“The lack of transparency is really discouraging. My kids swim for (the Feather River Aquatic Club). They go 3-4 days a week, year-round and they love it. It’s the only sport in this city that is a year-round sport,” Stout said. “…If they take that away, my kids will no longer have their sport. And the financial commitment of figuring out how to take them elsewhere could end up being astronomical, not to mention the psychological impact of telling my kids that their sport isn’t important enough to the city.” 

Last week, the city announced it would be closing the facility the day after Labor Day and  reopening at the end of January, a decision that was made during the city’s budget process for the current fiscal year. The facility’s maintenance costs run the city about $330,000 a year, and the pool only brings in about $200,000 in revenue a year (an earlier Appeal story incorrectly stated that the facility was still making a profit).

“It’s a net cost of approximately $130,000 a year, so we are actually losing money,” said Brad McIntire, director of Community Services for Yuba City.

A total of 18 people – youths, senior citizens, coaches, high school swimmers and concerned parents – spoke in favor of keeping Gauche Aquatic Park open year-round.

A community asset

The Feather River Aquatic Club (FRAC) is a nonprofit that contracts with the city to utilize Gauche throughout the year and provides a competitive swim program to area residents. Club President Sharon Guillory said she was never contacted by the city before the decision was made. 

She’s been working at Gauche since it opened in 2007 and said letting it sit for five months out of the year will have insurmountable consequences for those that participate in her program and won’t help the city with its debt service on the approximately $16 million facility – allocating $650,000 annually, the city isn’t expected to pay off its debt on the facility until 2036.

“The way this entire situation has been handled is wrong. I am angry, shocked, insulted, and devastated,” Guillory said. “The kids matter, the senior citizens matter, the lap and master swimmers matter. Our high school swim teams matter. The employees matter.”

A temporary closure would mean the end of FRAC, she said. The months the closure would occur are also when the program holds its biggest fundraiser, meaning it wouldn’t make enough to continue operating without the event. Without FRAC, its swimmers would have to drive out of town to pursue their sport, and the majority of families wouldn’t have the means to do so, she said. High school swimmers from Yuba City High School and River Valley High School wouldn’t have anywhere to train, as well, before their season starts in February.

“I think people should know that FRAC has been a part of this community since 1968. In my twenty years with the team, I have seen thousands of children be positively impacted by our program,” Guillory said. “It is my hope that anyone affected by this decision will reach out to the council and express their views. It is also my hope that voting, taxpaying citizens realize that these decisions were made without any prior conversation at all.” 

More than 20,000 people have utilized Gauche Aquatic Park between May 25 and July 10. Close to 1,000 people have taken swim lessons since the beginning of summer. 

City response

During Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Shon Harris announced the city is planning a special meeting later this month to have staff provide City Council members and the public with a presentation about the facility and its current financial situation. 

“This was one of many tough budget decisions made during the process, but the gravity and breadth of that decision was grossly misjudged. The way the public found out about it was less than ideal, too,” Harris said. 

Harris took responsibility for the decision and said the council wanted to make it right by holding a meeting dedicated to the topic. He also directed city staff to begin outreach and communication with FRAC to discuss alternatives to closing Gauche before the special meeting takes place.

“We aren’t standing in the doorway on this. We are willing to listen to our options,” Harris said.

Gauche Athletic Park:

Gauche Aquatic Park is located at 421 C Street, Yuba City, and is currently open seven days a week. The park features a 10,000-square-foot building with enclosed reception area, a first aid station, multipurpose rooms, locker areas and a concession area, as well as a 25-yard by 25- yard – 10 lap competitive pool, an activity pool, a “sprayground” and a water slide.

A July 29 special meeting on the topic of closing Guache five months out of the year will start at 6 p.m. inside City Council Chambers at City Hall –1201 Civic Center Blvd., Yuba City.

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